First of all, Happy Valentine’s Day to all!
How do I share my struggles with my ministry of teaching in a public forum in a way that is respectful of a subset of my students who from my perspective, seem to have chosen to struggle against rather than with me? This past week has been very a difficult one for me professionally. I guess the positive way of looking at it is that my willingness to stay in the struggle and continue to try to model for (and expect from) my future colleagues the kind of respectful, professional discourse that is expected in the workplace is evidence that I care very deeply about and take very seriously my obligations to them.
Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I often use allegory, sometimes in playful ways, to clarify, illuminate, get a novel perspective on an issue. So I thought I’d share the one I came up with in response to this group of students who claim that the reason they do not come to me for help during my office hours is that I assume that they should know more than they do, and that they think coming to me for help would end in them feeling insignificant and unintelligent. (Keep in mind that the author of the post speaking as a spokesperson for this group has never actually tried coming for help with a problem….) It’s not as playful as some of my other allegories, but I think it’s fairly accurate, and others of you who are educators might be able to relate…
When you come to me for help, I expect that you have at least attempted the problem, and that you have some work written down so that I can see where the problem is. Would you go to a doctor and not tell her what your symptoms are, expecting her to make you well with no data other than you telling her you feel sick? Please help me to help you by trying to identify what has you stuck. If I appear to assume you know more than you do, it’s because you are not telling me what you do and don’t understand.
Let me end by saying that I believe things will turn around. When the tone of our online forum began to deteriorate despite my best efforts to keep the conversations from poisoning the learning environment for all of the students, I wisely enlisted the intervention of my department chair. On Friday we had some one-on-one conversations with a couple of students we think could make a difference with their peers in turning things around. I’m cautiously optimistic that those conversations will have the desired result and don’t simply become more fuel on the fire.
It is interesting to note that there is another subset of students who have no clue that any of this is going on, as they have not been following the discussion forum.